The Office – “Employee Transfer”

“Employee Transfer”

October 30th, 2008

Remember last week? I was a bit underwhelmed by “Crime Aid,” feeling that it felt a bit too much like the show forcing a situation compared to the previous two episodes, but in retrospect (and another viewing) I felt like I was a bit harsh: it was still a very funny episode with a nice running subplot.

However, I feel a bit safer in acknowledging that “Employee Transfer” was by far the season’s weakest episode, all cold open and no comic follow-through, where we said goodbye to our favourite new employee of Dunder-Mifflin while, quite honestly, not doing much else in the process. While another decent subplot, Andy and Dwight battling it out over Angela through Beets and Cornell, was at least bringing some humour, it felt derivative of what we’ve seen the show do before.

This is not to say that Employee Transfer was a bad episode, but rather that it kind of takes the wind out of the show’s sails: we’re losing the season’s MVP, we have very little sense of the show’s overall direction, and it was an episode that never quite gathered a cohesive comic vision.

In short, I think I’ve got it right this time: this is the weakest episode of what has been an otherwise fantastic opening to the season.

Saying goodbye to Holly Flax isn’t fair, and to be honest it kind of sucked all the fun out of this episode. It was a sad inevitability: Amy Ryan is an Oscar-nominated actress, blah blah blah, we knew that she wasn’t going to be around forever. However, this conclusion is problematic in the short term even if I fully understand its long term purpose: while it resulted in a heartbreaking road trip that eventually spiralled into tears and a tragic breakup, it does leave the door open for Holly’s return at some point in the future. The show has not chosen, as it did with Jan or Carol, to have Michael ruin the relationship or to have the other half of the relationship become crazy (a decision that, while it’s resulted in some great comedy for Melora Hardin, still kind of bugs me). Instead, if we’re looking for a happy ending for Michael (when NBC is ever in a position where they don’t have to rely on the show and it can have a graceful exit), they have it: Holly Flax is still out there, and still in love with Michael Scott.

The truck ride had its highlights: I love the Tom Cochrane sing-along, I love having Darryl there for comic relief, and I don’t think any line in the episode came close to topping “Did Darryl touch you?” But, whether it was knowing that this was the last we’d be seeing of the character or just the decision to have the entire thing play out in a single episode, something just felt off about it. When Michael broke down in the car crying, begging her to stay together so that he wouldn’t weakly go back to Jan, there was nothing comic about it: it was pure tragedy, and I honestly feel awful for Michael in this situation. I won’t argue this is a bad thing: it’s actually quite important to the audience’s empathy with the character.

The issue was that the rest of the episode didn’t really balance this out very well, in particular the extremely oddly executed Jim and Pam storyline. While we’ve been clamboring for Jim and Pam to be in the same location ever since their rest stop proposal, what we got was what it looked like: Jim’s two asshole brothers spending an entire luncheon questioning the validity of Pam’s career choice, cleverly masquerading their douchebaggery as a practical joke on their little brother. I’m not sure that we’ve seen two characters enter into this world that have been this one-dimensionally frustrating, and for this to be our reintroduction to Jim and Pam as a couple seems a bit of an odd choice.

I guess I don’t really see what the scenes accomplished: yes, I know this is ostensibly a sitcom, but it feels with Jim and Pam that the writers have them on a set path, and all this one seemed to do was serve as another disruptive influence on their relationship. The more these add up, the more frustrated I’m going to become: I don’t think the show is able to break these two up at this point without entering too far into melodrama, which is why the entire scene’s lack of resolution (all we get is Jim and Pam agreeing that his brothers were being stupid) feels like an odd choice to insert into this episode. I’m not suggesting that these roadblocks or scenes aren’t possible, but combined with the tragic end of Michael and Holly’s relationship it was a bit of a downer.

The episode’s attempt to be lighter was, admittedly, charming: Dwight applying to Cornell and throwing it in Andy’s face out of spite for his upcoming nuptials with Angela. These storylines are always fun, because it’s totally in character for Dwight despite his objections: if Jim did this to him, for example, he would have been furious, but he’s so wonderfully self-centered that he finds it totally justified. The escalation feels about right in the episode, but it doesn’t feel particularly fresh: even the choice to end the episode with Andy trying to one-up Dwight at his own game was stolen directly from Jim/Dwight’s costume-off last season. It’s not a bad formula, but this was an episode that needed an antidote that really struck home.

And in a way it had one: the cold open, featuring three different Jokers (I preferred Creed’s), Kelly’s unwalkable shoes, and Pam’s awesome Charlie Chaplin outfit at the costumeless Corporate office, felt like the kind of comic relief that could give the episode a bit more balance. Instead, it was like a shining moment of humour that made way for an episode that just left me feeling down. I prefer a dour episode of the show to the uneven mess that was the start of the fourth season, but this is still an odd note to leave us on: Darryl and Michael singing the blues may have been fun, but it does little to rest my soul that the world of The Office looks darker than ever before.

Come back soon, Amy Ryan – come back soon.

Cultural Observations

  • I think what I found most sad about the episode was our final talking head with Amy Ryan, a heartbreaking and hilarious run of their conversation. The ease with which she told her choice to jinx Michael, and how it ended up biting her in the ass as they put off the conversation due to the imposed silence, was exactly the kind of thing that Ryan handled so deftly, and humanized Holly so quickly. Seriously, Television Academy: I will hunt you down if you snub Amy Ryan this year.
  • I found it kind of strange that Angela didn’t get a single talking head throughout the Dwight and Andy showdown: as it continued to escalate, you’d think that she’d at least have something to say…although perhaps her looks of disgust and embarrassment said it all?
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3 Comments

Filed under The Office

3 responses to “The Office – “Employee Transfer”

  1. Hey Myles,

    Great piece as usual, but I gotta disagree with you in that I think this episode was 90% fantastic. Yes, you are right, this episode wasn’t as “ha ha” funny as the rest of them, and the Jim and Pam storyline was a heavy handed, lame, and unfunny way to set up what seems like inevitable conflict regarding Pam’s career choice. But the Holly storyline was SO masterfully done.

    Recall the scene that takes place with the car cam, right after Michael has failed to find a bed and breakfast. Holly slowly breaks down into tears on camera, an emotional transformation that takes a good 10-20 seconds. This slow-motion trainwreck is one of the best performances in “Office” history, and merits a strong recommendation.

    With regards to overall narrative structure of the story, this episode feels so much more “real” than any of the dregs of Season 4 (recall how dark the first 4 1-hour long episodes of Season 4 were), mainly because the relationship between Holly and Michael feels authentic and therefore, so does its end. Contrasts this with all elements of the Michael/Jan episodes and you end up with an episode that shoots for more emotional depth than any other episode…and in large part, succeeds.

  2. Nikki

    I agree with David. This episode was way more natural. I liked everything about it except for the Pan and Jim storyline. I understand that the Andy/Dwight plot (totally hilarious) wasn’t competely original, but you can say the same thing for situations that Michael gets into, like last week’s auction with the imaginary Bruce Springsteen tickets. In sitcoms that last more than 2 seasons its inevitable that there will be at least two storylines that are a little similar.

  3. For the record, Nikki, I agree with David too. I think that the Michael and Holly storyline, as much as it makes me sad, was entirely natural, and that it allows for there to be some potential interaction in the future between these two very realistically drawn characters, at least within this moment. Amy Ryan’s acting was spectacular, indeed, and the whole thing is still leagues better than the 4th season contrivance.

    My issue is more with the fact that the rest of the episode didn’t feel as realistic, or organic if I can use such a word. For the record, Nikki, I complained about the auction last week as well, so I’m being consistently stodgy: I just felt that the first few episodes of the season felt totally natural, and here we have an episode that feels more forced.

    Jim and Pam’s storyline is perhaps the worst offender, Dwight and Andy feels too transparently like a writer’s room suggestion than a character-driven action, and while Holly/Michael was natural for the character it was still constructed as a necessary device of getting rid of Holly due to Amy Ryan’s imminent departure.

    So while they still know how to construct all of these things with great comic timing, it felt like they were constructing just a bit too carefully at some points at a creative level.

    Thanks for the comments, by the way – always glad to hear from people who have different critical perspectives on this show, in particular.

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